The rise and fall of Phil Gramm

Texas' former presidential candidate never learned the art of compromise

Would a bleeding-heart liberal kick a guy while he's down? Should a girl like me, in whom the milk of human kindness flows copiously for everyone, from protein-shy Hottentots to the glandular obese, actually aim a few swift boots at the prone form of Sen. Phil Gramm?

Nah. But it's tempting.
We liberals do sometimes forsake our vows of compassion for all mankind. I recall publicly gloating about the defeat of some of the noxious fatheads Texas used to send to Congress. But hell, I even felt sorry for Richard Nixon when he left. There's nothing you can do about being born liberal--fish gotta swim, and hearts gotta bleed.

From the Texas Democratic point of view, it's a shame that Gramm didn't stay in at least through New Hampshire and spend himself broke. Now, he'll just come home and clobber whomever the Democrat is with his leftover millions.

It's hard to write about Gramm without sounding mean; the national reporters' favorite line was, "Even his friends don't like him." The most touching story I ever heard about Gramm was from a fellow senator who used to tell Gramm: "You'll never be president, Phil, because you've got no heart."

For some reason, Gramm, who has more than amply demonstrated his indifference to what his colleagues think of him, took this guy seriously. For years afterward, whenever Gramm had done anything that remotely smacked of compassion, he'd come up to this senator and say, "Whatta ya think, whatta ya think--am I showing heart yet?"

Well, it is sort of touching.
From the point of view of the rest of the country, Texas and Phil Gramm must look like Enid and Joe Waldholtz. Most people keep asking, "But what did she ever see in him?" while the kinder ones reply, "She must have married him for money. Give her a little credit--it couldn't have been love."

What can we say? We keep electing the guy by two-digit percentage margins, and in the rest of the country, he can't buy his way out of single digits with $20 million.

He may be a schmuck, but at least he's our schmuck? (I always think of him as a schmuck from Georgia, but then, I don't like him.)

I suppose we could just blame him on the Aggies, but I think that's some kind of "ist"--universityist? While Austin snores along in its false sense of superiority, Texas A&M has in fact become a great university. I'm not suggesting that we ban Aggie jokes as politically incorrect, but let's at least recognize reality.

My real problem with Phil Gramm is ill-timed; it's the wrong season to make this case, but I'll try anyway. Set aside that I don't agree with him about anything. I don't agree with Rep. Charlie Stenholm, a blue-dog Democrat, about anything either. But you notice that Stenholm and the rest of the blue dogs have been sweating like farm workers to find a compromise on the budget impasse in Washington. They understand that compromise is necessary.

In this, the era of ideologues, that is a most unfashionable position. There are 73 Republican freshmen and one speaker in the House who consider compromise treachery. And Phil Gramm considered compromise treachery before compromise-as-treachery was cool. I suppose we should give him credit for being ahead of his time; Texans always have liked a hard-ass.

Now that "politician" is a dirty word (not that it was ever reminiscent of roses), it seems awfully dated to bring up names like Sam Rayburn, Lyndon B. Johnson, Ralph Yarborough, and Barbara Jordan. But they were politicians. They fought hard and they compromised because they thought it was for something quaintly called the greater good. Or maybe they just wanted to move the ball. In any case, in the phrase of the kindergarten report card, they worked and played well with others. And no one ever considered them sissies because of it.

Phil Gramm does not work or play well with others. Never has. And I don't think that works well for Texas. "Get along, go along" is not an inspirational philosophy, and only God knows how much moral cowardice it has covered up over the years. Serve your time, collect your chits, and cash 'em in for your home state? No, I'd say we could ask for more than that from our senators.

But I've never seen Phil Gramm collect or cash a chit for anyone except Phil Gramm. And that is one in the ribs to a man who's down. God forgive me.

Molly Ivins is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Copyright ©1996 Creators Syndicate Inc.

 
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